Thomas Jefferson Papers

Christopher Clark to Thomas Jefferson, 29 October 1816

From Christopher Clark

Grove 29 October 1816

mr Jeffersons Reasoning in the case of the wittnessth against Robertson for perjury is strong and Conclusive for the defendant if he is Right in his premisses, and even if it Shall be found erroneous in matter of law the length of time which has pased away since his attention was particularly caled to legal inquiry and the absence of books will be an ample apology for a Sketch proceeding from motives deserving every Commendation


Its true definition is “taking a false oath in some Judicial proceeding, before a competent jurisdiction: in a matter material to the question depending.” It must also have the two necessary ingredients “Wilful” and “corrupt” In a “Judicial proceeding” the enquiries of a Grand Jury must come within the termJudicial proceeding” They are Sworn to “enquire and true presentment make” of all such matters & things &C to enquire they must examine evidence their duty is not limited to offences within their own knowledge, they have a Right and invariably exercise it to send for witneses The witness is Sworn in Court the “truth and the Whole truth to speak of such Matters and things as may be enquired of him by the Grand Jury” he is then sent for examination to their chamber they Submit the interrogotories, these must however be confined to Matters and thing Cognazable before them questions of this character and when the Response does not implicate the Witness he is bound to Answer and if he answer untruly with a Malum animum must be guilty of perjury

as far as events with in the observation of the Author of these Remarks it always has been considered and praetendan that the Offence1 may be commited before a G Jury Two Cases at this time Occur to him in one of [w]hich he was Counsel and every effort unavailingly exerted to Save the defendant this comenced when it began in Court comwealth agt Hughes superior Court of Bedford Judge Winston defendant convicted broke Jail and now at large The other against Ward Cobel County Judge Allen This case Require more attention from its2 analogy The defendant was caled to give evidence to a Grand Jury of what he knew of certain persons gaming he Stated he “knew nothing” he “saw none” “was in the Room” discovered3 no4 gaming nor the instruments of gaming” It afterwards appeared that he himself had played several games at Cards and had lost two dollars by betting on the hands of others that were playing on this he was convicted and a new trial on his application Refused; errors in arrest of Judgment overruled; an Appeal to the clemency of the Executive Rejected; his petition to the Legislature thrown out. This is the strongest case that can be formed perhaps even by the imagination and the law must now be considered as Setled

The conduct of the Jury

For the last 20 years or there about that part of the G Jurymans Oath which formerly obtained “your and your fellow Council you Shall keep” has been Ousted by act of assembly and the law now directs that when a presentment Shall be made by the knowledge of any of the G Jury the name of the Juror Shall sit at the foot of the presentment more effectually to make a prosecution It is therefore no Misprision nor is it any immorality in a Juror to promulge what pased before them Even the old Rule was never extended to the protection of Witneses it only protected their own body they Were not at liberty to disclose Who wished such an enquiry Who gave notice of an offence or who Voted for or against Such a matter. In the most enlarged understanding of the Casses: it could go no further it would be opposed to both policy and law

Was it Wilful and Corrupt?

On this point is mr Jeffersons Reasonings clear and satisfactory and on this ground5 does mr R Counsel intend to place him with the most Confident hopes of success it will be to him as safe and it will be Reputabl there could be no improper motive the Oath Could not be corrupt it could have proceeded only from a mistaken mode of Self protection to avoid implicating himself there was nothing immoral nothing contrary to the severest law An acquital on this ground will it is to be most sincerly hoped Reinstate him in his proper grade in Society Restore him to his friends and place him above the snarls even of his enemies

The Counsel for mr R Returns his thank to mr Jefferson for the observation submited to him he Read as he always does every thing that comes from his pen with great pleasure knowing that it endeavoured to maintain some exploded and untenable matter he think it a duty due to a friendship on which he set so high a Value frankly to submit the forgoing Remarks Relying on the Candor of his friends to appreciate the motive

Chris Clark

RC (DLC); dateline beneath signature; top of second page chipped; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Oct. 1816 and so recorded in SJL.

robertson was quite possibly the Lynchburg merchant Archibald Robertson. William Blackstone refers to perjury as a wilful and corrupt crime in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford, 1765–69; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 1806–7; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 10 [no. 553]), 4:136. Malo animo (malum animum): “malice or evil intent” (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner and others, eds., Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed., 1999 description ends ). Praetentam (praetendan): “alleged.”

The act of assembly ending the requirement that Virginia grand jurors keep their deliberations secret was “An Act concerning Grand Juries, Petit Juries, and Venire-men,” enacted 29 Nov. 1792. This law also directed grand juries to add to each presentment “the name and surname of the prosecutor or informer,” not the name of the juror (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1792–93 sess.], 11–2). promulge: “publish or proclaim formally” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Manuscript: “Office.”

2Manuscript: “s it.”

3Omitted opening quotation mark editorially supplied.

4Word interlined.

5Manuscript: “gound.”

Index Entries

  • Allen, Mr. (judge) search
  • An Act concerning Grand Juries, Petit Juries, and Venire-men (1792) search
  • Bedford County Superior Court of Law, Va. search
  • Clark, Christopher Henderson; and Robertson perjury case search
  • Clark, Christopher Henderson; letters from search
  • Clark, Christopher Henderson; on perjury search
  • Cobel, Ward; convicted of perjury search
  • Hughes, Mr.; convicted of perjury search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; perjury search
  • law; and perjury search
  • perjury; and grand juries search
  • Robertson, Mr. (of Virginia); accused of perjury search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; laws of search
  • Winston, Edmund; as judge search